Our Spoons Came from Woolworths: Barbara Comyns’s daring depiction of childbirth.

Emily Gould in The Paris Review:

SpoonsChildbirth, in literature, almost always takes place “offstage,” outside a book’s main action. Even contemporary novels, unless they are specifically about motherhood, birth babies in a sentence or two. What was Comyns up to, then, in devoting three chapters of this short book to Sophia’s labor and delivery? One possibility: the description of Sophia’s labor make the class and sex limbo that threatens her life inescapably clear: she is too middle-class to give birth, as poor people still mostly did in 1930, at home, but she is too poor to give birth, as richer women did, attended by competent doctors in a private hospital. Instead, she is treated brutally at the public hospital where a thoughtful friend of a friend has managed to get her admitted as a charity case. The fate that awaits her there is horrifying in part because its horror is so commonplace; millions of women shared it, and worse, still do. Even today birth is pathologized and shrouded in mystery in most of the developed world. Comyns, with her knack for defamiliarization that reveals the strangeness of the most familiar, was a perfect observer of the absurdity of the situation in which her narrator—and in which she—found herself. “Besides being very uncomfortable it made me feel dreadfully shamed and exposed. People would not dream of doing such a thing to an animal. I think the ideal way to have a baby would be in a dark, quiet room, all alone and not hurried.”

With these frank and detailed chapters, Comyns elevates what might have been a commonplace melodrama about a girl led astray into much more unusual sort of novel—especially for its time. The particulars of Sophia’s birth are outdated, but the feelings she describes—of shame, helplessness, and terror, wonder at her baby countered by fear for his life—are still far too common in life, yet still far too rare in literature.

More here.